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Sappho, Shropshire and Super-Tramp: A Collection of Modern English Art-Song
Sarah Leonard (soprano)
Johnny Herford (baritone)
Nigel Foster (piano)
rec. Monkton Combe School, Bath, 2015; St Michael and All Angels Church, South Yardley, Birmingham, 2016
DIVINE ART DDA21230 [77:36 + 79:05]

I will begin this review by confessing my unfamiliarity with The English Poetry & Song Society, whose sterling efforts have resulted in the issue of several cd’s on the Divine Art label. Information about them can be found here and here . As might be expected, the discs that precede the ones reviewed here feature early 20th Century songs by such luminaries as Vaughan Williams, Finzi, Gurney, Moeran, Ireland as well as less well-known composers.

In the introduction to the booklet accompanying this 2 CD set, a former Chairman, Richard Carder, says that the competitions the society runs exist “as a way of increasing interest in English Art Song, which has always been a poor relation when compared with German Lieder, French Mélodies and Italian Arias; as Hubert Parry noted, The English prefer foreign music!’”

This release has extended the Society’s reach by presenting art-songs from the middle to late years of that century and into the present day, by composers who, with the sole exception of Ivor Gurney, are much less well-known outside their own circles of excellence. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of style, but I suppose that I should not have been surprised that some of the settings remind me somewhat of Vaughan Williams and his near contemporaries; I am thinking here of William Carnell’s ‘White in the moon the long road lies’, and David Crocker’s ‘My Whole World’, both of which are really nice. The same comment regarding influence could apply to several of the 52 songs recorded. Naturally enough, some of the songs have music, which sounds rather bland, but that criticism can be leveled at several middle rank British composers of the first half of the last century. Some of the songs can be viewed in a different light – a couple of Graham Garton’s show signs of French influence, say Poulenc, and doubtless Britten also makes an appearance here and there.

Influence spotters will have a great time, and for those, who like a more adventurous setting, Janet Oates’s four songs may well suffice, since, to paraphrase the notes, they focus on ‘character rather than melody’ and ‘speech rhythms are more common than lyricism’.

It is probably best not to listen to all 52 songs in one go, as saturation may well set in, despite the natural sounding recording. The baritone, Johnny Herford, is at the beginning of his career, and his fine voice rings out with firmness and clarity. Sarah Leonard, who is a current President of the EPSS, is approaching the end of her distinguished singing career, and yet her voice is clear and mostly free of wobble. Only some threadbare tone tells us that we are hearing an older instrument.

The booklet is very detailed, containing information about the Society, together with biographies and full song texts.

Jim Westhead

Previous review: John France

Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937) Seven Sappho Songs [14:38]
William CARNELL (b.1938) A Country Lover [18:42]
Michael WATTS (b.1937) Gypsy Girl [20:07]
Dennis WICKENS (b.1926) This Life [23:59]
Simon WILLINK (1929-2015) Sea and Sky [4:13]
David CROCKER (b.1943) A Great Time [1:59],
My Whole World [1:46]
Sulyen CARADON (b.1942) Silver [2:32]
Brian DAUBNEY (b.1929) Bredon Hill [3:56]
Boot and Saddle [1:34]
Because I could not stop for death [2:35]
The Dream City [4:32]
Waiting Both [2:08]
Graham GARTON (b.1929) Leisure [5:05]
The Eagle [2:32]
The Song of the Secret [2:45]
The Shade Catchers [1:23]
Frank HARVEY (b.1939)
Dawn [3:58]
The Convergence of the Twain [4:43]
I so liked spring [1:10]
Remember [5:02]
Robert HUGILL (b.1955)
Voyages III [4:24]
Gitanjali XIII [3:48]
Gitanjali II [4:06]
The Pillar [3:01]
Janet OATES (b.1970)
Bee: Dance [3:53]
Money [2:13]
The King of China’s Daughter [3:18]
The Cupboard [2:18]



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